Assurances on criteria ease pressure on Reilly but Labour disquiet remains
THE PRESSURE on Minister for Health James Reilly eased yesterday for the first time in weeks after the Tánaiste accepted his assurances in relation to the siting of primary care centres in his north Dublin constituency.
Eamon Gilmore later told the Dáil Dr Reilly and his officials had assured him there was no ministerial involvement in selecting individual sites for primary care centres.
However, concern remains within Labour about Dr Reilly’s explanation for adding 15 locations to the original list of primary care centres prepared by former minister of state Róisín Shortall, according to sources. Ms Shortall described the Minister’s addition of Swords and Balbriggan in his constituency as “stroke politics” after she resigned last month.
The meeting between Mr Gilmore and Dr Reilly, who was accompanied by Department secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin and HSE chief Tony O’Brien, took place in Leinster House yesterday morning. This was before the Tánaiste was due to answer questions on the controversy in the Dáil.
It is understood Mr Gilmore sought sight of written documentation that would show that decisions on the siting of primary care centres in his constituency were made by HSE officials, with no outside involvement. However, he agreed to accept oral assurances from the officials present that Dr Reilly had no such involvement.
The HSE said in a statement that Mr O’Brien provided the Tánaiste with an assurance, based on conversations with relevant officials, that Dr Reilly had no involvement in the decision or choice relating to any primary care centre.
Three weeks into the controversy, Dr Reilly has yet to explain why he didn’t extend the list by choosing the next highest ranking locations, rather than going down the table to choose other towns.
Using Ms Shortall’s ranking as the basis for extending the list of primary care centres from 20 to 35 produces the following additional locations: Oranmore, Bishopstown, Kilcock, Killorglin, Rosslare, Knocklyon/Rathfarnham, Kells, Thurles, Castleblayney, Bunclody, Donegal town, Limerick (Castletroy), Bandon, Cahir and Midleton.
Of these, only five – Kilcock, Knocklyon/Rathfarnham, Kells, Thurles and Donegal town – were ultimately included.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald defended Dr Reilly and said she was confident once all details emerged that people would accept he had done nothing wrong.
She conceded that the details “may not seem clear now”, but insisted this perception would change.
“There is no personal gain for him. There is no impropriety by him in relation to the lease, the land, the particular site we’re discussing today. I think that will emerge more and more as the details of the decision-making around that emerge,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Mr Gilmore told the Dáil that he was consulted about Dr Reilly’s decision to increase the number of centres from 20 to 35.
“I was consulted about that and I agreed with the rationale for it. My primary concern was that we had a good stimulus package and it maximised the amount of input into the economy and the creation of jobs. I agreed with the increase from 20 to 35.”
However, he denied that he had any involvement in the criteria used. “I was no more involved in the criteria for how primary care centres were selected in the Department of Health than I was involved in the criteria that were used in the Department of Education and Skills for the selection of schools or the criteria that were used in the Department of Transport for the selection of roads.”
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald claimed the Tánaiste knew the criteria were fixed to achieve a predetermined outcome.
“He signed off on the additional health centres; he did so knowing the difficulties and deep concerns deputy Róisín Shortall had. He hung deputy Róisín Shortall out to dry and he makes no apology for doing that.”
Ms McDonald said the Minister had answered none of the key questions, given that the Balbriggan site was owned by a Fine Gael supporter and selected on Mr Reilly’s watch as Minister.